In May 2021, Greece opened its doors to tourists and welcomed them with open arms. I finally made my way to Greece in September 2021 as I read that this was historically one of the best months to visit for great weather and fewer crowds. Greece was my first international trip since March 2020 (Spain), when the pandemic halted international travel, and I was beyond ecstatic to travel again.
The entrance requirements for Greece are subject to change daily (check travel.gov.gr for more information) but when I visited, the entry requirements were: a PLF form (completed at least 24 hours before arrival) AND proof of vaccination or a negative PCR test (taken no later than 72 hours before arrival) or a negative antigen test (taken no later than 48 hours before arrival). When I arrived to Greece (Athens International Airport), I was not subject to random testing however I did see a few travelers that were tested. I am not sure of the travelers vaccination status but keep in mind that testing on arrival is mandatory if you are selected regardless of your vaccination status.
If you have never been to Greece, I encourage you to visit as it is an amazing country with plenty of places to visit and lots of things to do. I definitely plan to revisit in the near future to explore more cities on the mainland, islands, and even revisit the places that i’ve already been (Athens, Mykonos, and Santorini). Below are some highlights from my first trip to Greece and hopefully my experience will be helpful to you in planning your first or next trip to Greece.
I arrived on a direct non-stop flight via Delta Airlines from the U.S. to Athens. Prior to boarding, I was required to show my passport, proof of vaccination or a negative PCR or rapid test result, and the PLF form.
To get around in Athens, you have several transportation options that range from the bus, tram, subway (called the “metro”), and taxi cabs. As for Uber, it is available in Athens but only for hiring a taxi. Another app, Beats, is the same as Uber but more frequently used in Athens and may or may not be faster (it was a bit slow for me). For the few times that I used the metro, I found it to be very convenient to getting to and from different neighborhoods and easy to use with the announcements made in Greek and English. Additionally, the ticket machines were easy to use and the information on what ticket to buy (24 hours, 48 hours, 1 day, 1 week, etc.) was simple to find and select. Make sure you hold on to your metro ticket because you will need it to exit the station. Also, while you’re in the metro station, take time to explore the sculptures and other artifacts, particularly at the Acropolis and Syntagma Square stations.
I stayed in the area near Syntagma Square at the Electra Metropolis Hotel. This hotel is perfectly located for sightseeing (Acropolis, Dinner in the Sky), and walking to the metro (Syntagma Square), restaurants and bars (Plaka area and Monastraki Square) and more.
Dinner in the Sky
Suspended 190 feet in the air strapped tightly by two seat belts all while enjoying a 6-course meal, Dinner in the Sky allows participants to stare in awe at the city of Athens and the Parthenon before or after the sun sets while Coldplay’s “Sky Full of Stars” plays in the background. Dinner in the Sky is a great experience for solo travelers, couples, families, and is an experience that is unlike anything you’ve done before. Although the experience only lasts for 2 hours, I guarantee that you will neither be ready to come down nor go home at the end. The experience not only provides a 6-course meal but 30 minutes prior to the dinner, an appetizer is served along with PLENTY of wine. PLENTY! PLENTY of wine! I cannot emphasize that enough. Dinner in the Sky also caters to vegans, vegetarians, and other special diets upon request when you purchase your ticket online. I look forward to experiencing Dinner in the Sky in other countries as well.
As with most visitors, the Acropolis was one of the highlights of my trip to Athens! As a child, I read about the Acropolis in history books and to finally get the chance to see it in person years later was surreal. I decided to go around 8:00 am when the weather was cooler and descended around 10:30-11:00 am before it got too hot. The journey to the top of the Acropolis took about or around 45 minutes and it coming down the hill took about same amount of time. One could spend hours looking around the ruins, taking pictures, and admiring the views of Athens from the top of the Acropolis. There are also many ruins at the bottom of the hill that you will pass on your way up so there is no need to rush to the top unless you’re pressed for time or trying to beat the crowds.
The Acropolis museum (pictured below) houses some of the artifacts from the many sites located at the Acropolis. Some of the artifacts can also be found at the British Museum in London. If you’re a history buff, you will love this museum! For those that are not, I suggest that you get a guide to tour this museum to make it interesting and gain a better understanding of what you are viewing. That is something that I wish I would’ve done because sometimes the descriptions next to each artifact is not enough to understand the depth of it. Before you visit, I encourage you to pre-purchase your ticket in advance.
At Monastraki Square you will find plenty of restaurants and bars (i.e. 360 Cocktail bar) to have a nice meal and or drink with friends, family, significant other, or yourself, as well as street performers to keep you entertained throughout the day. Additionally in this square, you will find the Ancient Agora, the Stoa of Attalos, and the ruins of Hadrian’s Library. Also located in Monastraki Square is the famous Athens Flea Market. Here, you will find local vendors selling everything from souvenirs, to shoes, wine, smoothies, soaps, olive oil, and more.
I arrived in Mykonos via airplane, Olympic Air, from Athens which took around 30-40 minutes. If you want a less expensive option, you can take a fast ferry which takes at least 2.5 hours.
To get around Mykonos, you have the option of taking a taxi, ATV, car, scooter, water taxi, or public bus (runs every hour during certain times). The schedules for the bus are usually posted near the stops. There is no uber or lyft on the island.
I stayed in the Platys Gialos area at Mykonos Kosmoplaz Hotel which is located in a great location if you want a hotel right on the beach (Platys Gialos Beach). This hotel is also in walking distance or in close proximity to other beaches (Psarou beach, Paraga Beach), bars/clubs (Scorpios), and restaurants. If you’re interested in getting to Mykonos town and looking for an inexpensive option (1-3 Euros), you can catch the public bus around the corner from this or nearby hotels in the Platys Gialos area.
Places I Visited
One of the highlights of Mykonos is Mykonos Town which is also known as “Little Venice.” It is here where you will find the infamous seating area, Little Venice Bay, where the sea crashes with the sidewalk, as well as white washed and blue colored buildings, and narrow cobblestone streets. Additionally, you will find numerous restaurants, bars, shopping, and instagram worthy picture spots. Mykonos Town is a beautiful and charming village that is most enjoyable when it’s not crowded with tourists from the cruise ships. However, if you visit earlier in the day, before 11 am, you can avoid the crowds.
In Mykonos there was not one beach that I didn’t love! All of the beaches I visited in Mykonos are beautiful! Just breathtaking! I spent majority of my time on the island beach hopping (Agrari Beach, Ornos, Playts Gialos, Kalo Livadi, Kalafatis Beach) as I was not interested in the party scene. My favorite beach of all was Agrari Beach. This beach was very laidback, not crowded, and I was told that it is mostly visited by locals. The beach also has a restaurant and bar if you want to have a drink or food. I visited this beach around 1:00 pm and had plenty of space on the soft golden sand for me to relax, sunbathe, and enjoy the view.
I arrived to Santorini by ferry, from Mykonos, and the total travel time was 1 hour and 15 minutes. Unlike most Seajets ferries, my ferry (World Champion) arrived and departed on time which is rare. My friend, who visited Greece shortly before I did, suggested that I should buy a club class seat for comfort and space during the ferry ride. I’m glad I heeded to her suggestion (thank you!!!) because club class was definitely the best choice!
As you may or may not have heard, boarding the ferry is comparable to herding cattle. So with that in mind, think of this experience as the ferry company herding tourists to quickly board so that the ferry can promptly move on to the next island. From the port to the entrance of the ferry, it is a moderate or mad rush to get on (depending on the season that you visit Greece). As such, you should watch your step and where you’re going, along with your luggage and others luggage, so that you will not trip or bump into the person in front or on the side of you. Once on the ferry, you have the option of storing your luggage at the bottom (entrance) of the ship or you can carry it with you to your seat depending on your seat choice (club class and VIP have space for luggage storage behind the seats). Regardless, make sure you remember where you left your luggage and pay attention to the labels on the carts (if any) so that your luggage is not stored on a cart for travelers disembarking to another island. Because I purchased a club class seat, I was able to carry my suitcase and backpack up the stairs and place it behind my seat as I did not want to search for it during the mad rush to get off the ferry. Finally, when your stop is called, you should start heading downstairs or lining up to get off the ferry because it makes multiple stops and your stop may not be the final destination. Furthermore, there will be a large crowd waiting to get on the ferry as soon as the other crowd disembarks.
My experience getting on the ferry was not as bad as it would be for travelers who visit during the busy months (June-August) but it was definitely unorganized. At the time of my trip (September 2021) none of the passengers had to show proof of vaccination, a negative COVID-19 test, nor their health declaration form. The only document that was requested was the boarding pass and they made sure that your were wearing a mask. Keep in mind that this does not mean that you should not have those documents with you before boarding the ferry. Rules change rapidly during this pandemic and the day you decide to board they could request those documents (health declaration, proof of vaccination or a negative COVID-19 test) and you want to be sure that you have them.
Club class seats were very comfortable, spacious, and they reclined. Depending on your seat number, you were also treated to a nice window view of the Aegean sea and other islands where the ferry stopped to pick up and drop off passengers. If you desire any food or beverages there is a cafe located at each level of the ferry for all seat classes. Although I did not sit in economy class, I will say that it appeared to be a lot of people with minimum space and is first come first served. So if you want a good seat (window seat), try to board the ferry first. Good luck!
The best way to get around the island is by taxi, renting a car, or bus (via a tour). However, there are other options such as an ATV, moped, or the local bus which runs every 20 minutes but check the local bus time tables to be sure. There is also a bus and cable car that runs from the Athinios Port to Fira, and buses that run from Fira all the way to Oia. I opted to use a taxi and transportation via half day tours during my visit. Finally, there are 588 steps from the Athinios Port to Fira if you’d rather walk up. If you choose to walk, keep in mind that along these stairs there are donkeys, their feces, and urine (watch your step!), and they may or may not move out of your way. Also, please DO NOT ride the donkeys. Don’t do it.
I stayed in Fira at the Panorama Boutique Hotel which sits along the caldera and provides a view of the volcano and other islands from the balcony of your hotel room. Additionally, this hotel sits on the main street of Fira and is in the center of all the action that Fira has to offer.
Fira is also a great location for solo travelers who desire easy access to shopping, restaurants, bars, other villages (Imerovigli, Firostefani), half day/full day tour meeting spots, cable car, and bus station.
Places I Visited
In order to get to this beach, you’ll have to walk 10 minutes from the parking lot on uneven ground so wear tennis shoes! I wore sandals and it was tough walking over rocks. Prior to getting to the beach area there is a small stand and a store to get water, food, etc. Make sure you get what you need as there are no other stores or stands once you arrive at Red Beach. Once I arrived at the top of the beach area, I decided to admire the view of the sea, red volcanic cliffs, and surrounding hills rather than taking the steep trek down to the beach. There is a much easier way to access the Red Beach and that is by boat (day tour) which will also take you to the nearby white beach and hot springs.
My favorite beach in Santorini is Perissa Beach. This is one of many black sand beaches that you will find in Santorini. The sand is very soft and a little slippery so proceed with caution. The water is very clear and the waves are calm. During the month of September the water was a little bit cold, but not cold enough to not swim. I really enjoyed Perissa beach and did not want to leave. The beach chairs appeared to be free to sit in but I’m almost certain they’re tied to a food purchase from the restaurant in the area where the chair is located. However, the restaurant staff didn’t seemed pressed to take orders as soon as I or others sat down. Rather, we had to get their attention to order food.
I went on a wine tasting tour with Nst Santorini Tours and visited two different wineries: Venetsanos Winery and the Wine Museum of Santorini, Koutsogiannopoulos. Unlike most places, wine in Santorini is grown close to the ground and protected from the wind and harsh sunlight with strong baskets that keep the grapes and its leaves close to it. For Santorini’s sweet wines (known as Vinsanto), it is sun dried for a week before it is used to make wine. The Wine Museum, Koutsogiannopolous, is a must visit because you’ll get to see the history of how wine was made over the years by hand up to today with machines. Additionally, you can tour the vineyards to get an up close look at how the grapes are grown.
Watching the Sunset
I watched the sunset in Oia at Sun Spirit Oia Bar. Because I went on a wine tour, the guide reserved seats for everyone on the tour (front row, no obstruction by tourists) to enjoy the view along with a complimentary glass of wine. Seeing the sunset in Oia was a great experience, however, keep in mind that you can see the same sunset from your hotel balcony in Fira, Imerovigli, and Oia as well depending on the location of your hotel room (caldera view).
Overall, I had a great time in Greece and look forward to visiting in again in the future to explore all that the country has to offer.
Restaurant Recommendations for Vegans
- 5 Senses (Santorini)
- Kailya Reimagined Food and Drinks (Santorini)
- Healthylicious (Mykonos)
- Vegan Beats (Athens)
- Lukamades (Athens)